Diabetes Self-Management Articles

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Extinguishing Burnout

by Diana M. Naranjo, PhD, and Korey K. Hood, PhD

Strategies for change
Now that you know the signs of diabetes burnout, the next step is to get help battling it. The following are three strategies that will help:

Stop black-and-white thinking. If you set up a system where aspects of diabetes management, such as checking blood glucose levels and eating, are done in either a good way or a bad way, you have fallen into black-and-white thinking. Having this kind of thinking will lead you to constantly feel that you are not doing enough, that you have to work harder, and that you may not ever achieve your goal. If you do not achieve “good,” you have failed.

Instead of thinking this way, give yourself a reality check (and a break), and recognize the effort you and your child are making to manage your child’s diabetes. Focus on the effort, not just the outcome.

Then try not to use the words “good” and “bad” when referring to blood glucose levels; instead, refer to them as “high,” “low,” or “in-range.”

Apply this type of thinking to food choices, too: Your child eating a food that is not the healthiest food option does not automatically turn a meal from good to bad.

Being held captive by black-and-white thinking is sure to foster and sustain parental diabetes burnout. Fight the urge to engage in that way of thinking.

Treat blood glucose levels as data. A great deal of diabetes burnout is related to blood glucose monitoring. The problem can be that monitoring is not done when it should be, that the numbers are too high too much of the time, or that you suspect there was a way to prevent the low or high level that just happened. And certainly, burnout is driven by thinking of blood glucose levels as good or bad. As noted before, this is the trap of black-and-white thinking.

But there is another problem here: “Good” and “bad” have emotions attached to them, and as parents, you often react more to the emotion than to the number. You have to be able to look at a blood glucose level of 350 mg/dl and say, “This is higher than we’d like, so let’s figure out what to do to fix it and then focus on trying to prevent it from happening again.”

Screaming, criticizing, or being angry will not make that blood glucose level go down any quicker. Treat it as a piece of information, do not emotionally react to it, and solve the problem with the diabetes knowledge and skills you have.

Get the support you need. You will feel better, you will be better at managing your child’s diabetes, and you will spend more time enjoying your family if you find ways to get support. This should involve diabetes-specific supports and supports in general. For example, you might call a friend to help with child care on the weekends, arrange a visit to the grandparents for the kids, or treat yourself to a special mini-break like an afternoon movie, a massage, a yoga class, or simply having quiet time to yourself.

In addition, talk to others about your frustrations as well as the joys you feel about being a parent. You will immediately find out that others are in the same boat and feel similarly. Remember that feelings of guilt and the subsequent blame you assign are not helpful; they can lead to feelings of resentment or of wanting to give up, neither of which helps you care for your child with diabetes.

Staying burnout free
As a parent of a child with diabetes — whether that child is 8, 15, or 22 — you are critical to the success and health of your child. You have a hard job, one that may feel thankless at times. But take a moment to pat yourself on the back for all the hard work you do and have done so far.

Then use the strategies listed here to help you perform better in that job by keeping diabetes burnout in check. By adjusting the ways you think about diabetes management, setting realistic expectations, and getting the support you need, you and your child can achieve success with diabetes and its management.

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